A crane working on the Barnette Street Bridge crashed into the Chena River on Tuesday morning.
Witnesses described hearing a loud crashing noise just before 11 a.m. as the crane, with its base originally on the north side of the river near the Big I bar, fell on its side.
“I was running on Cushman Street, and I heard a loud boom,” said a man watching from a hill above the construction site. He would only give his name as William. “I said, ‘What is that?’ I thought it was something like a terrorist attack.”
After it hit the ground, the crane extended across the river with its tip on the south shore. Part of the crane twisted around the pillars of the future bridge rising out of the water.
“I heard something loud, and I thought maybe they dropped a pipe,” said Joe Fields, who was doing remodeling at nearby Immaculate Conception Church. “It took me two or three minutes, but then I realized that the crane wasn’t there anymore.”
Speaking at the weekly meeting of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins noted the effect the crash had on the borough building, just few a hundred feet from the construction site.
“We heard a swooshing sound and then the building shook,” he said. “We all wondered if there was an earthquake.”
Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said it appears the crane overextended itself while piledriving a pylon about 40 feet away. The sounds of the piledriver have echoed throughout downtown Fairbanks for the past month as crews from Anchorage-based Sandstrom & Sons, Inc. have worked on the bridge.
“They’ve been working from this pad for the past month, and everything has been fine,” Bailey said.
Typically contracts are awarded to the lowest bidders and Sandstrom & Sons has an excellent record in Alaska, Bailey said.
Fairbanks police officers and EMTs responded to the scene within minutes. The crane operator, wearing a dirt-covered white T-shirt and khakis appeared visibly shaken as two EMTs treated him a few feet from the tipped over crane. He was able to walk to an ambulance escorted by EMTs.
He did not report any injuries but was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital as a precaution.
Almost as quickly as the crane hit the river, the construction crew, DOT and multiple other agencies were working on the cleanup effort, obtaining an emergency permit and bringing in an excavator, two bulldozers, two trucks and another crane to raise the roughly 60-foot structure.
Shortly after 8 p.m., a worker in a basket was lowered to the crane to cut through a portion of it. Dozens of people gathered on First Avenue, many on the balcony of Gambardella’s restaurant, to watch as the second crane lifted the boom of the fallen crane onto the south shore of the Chena River.
In addition, environmental crews were on scene to deal with fuel spilling into the river from the crane. A silt curtain has been on the river since construction began to keep sediment out of the river, Bailey said.
Alyeska Pipeline Services Co. sent a senior oil spill coordinator to the Chena River to help managers survey the scene and, if needed, offer the firm’s help, spokeswoman Lynda Sather said.
“We may have some equipment they want to borrow,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “They’re looking at that right now.”
Fairbanks police shut down all of the roads immediately surrounding the construction just after 5:30 p.m. as crews worked. The precautions were necessary because acetylene, an unstable fuel, was trapped between the crane and crane pad, Bailey said. The fallen crane also shutdown all traffic on the river.
The roads were to remain closed until the crane was removed.
Traffic on Cushman Street and First Avenue began to slow almost immediately after the accident as cars and pedestrians stopped to see the twisted crane wrapped around the pilings of the future bridge. At about noon, five Fairbanks police officers were re-directing traffic in the downtown area.
“Basically, there was a massive backup,” Fairbanks police Sgt. Robert Thompson said. “Everyone ran to take pictures and every car wanted to stop and rubberneck.”
Construction on the Barnette Street Bridge began in April as part of an effort to ease traffic congestion in downtown Fairbanks.
Staff writers Amanda Bohman and Christopher Eshleman contributed to this report.
Category: Accident Report